Race, Gender & Horror: Reading Psychoanalysis in American Film & Fiction

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 21, 2021 - July 21, 20216/21 - 7/214 WeeksOnlineWaitlistedOnlineKristen Maye

Course Description

Have you ever wondered: Why is the (weak) woman almost always saved by a man? Why are we presumed to consider disability and disfigurement “scary”? What character traits define the “monstrous”? Why does the (black) sidekick always die first? In this course, we will explore how horror films reflect the values, mores and fears of a collective unconscious, with a special emphasis on the ways in which racial stereotyping and gender violence are often deployed as horror film tropes. We will learn how to close read our media-saturated environment, thinking through the ways in which representation functions to condition our subconscious perception of “Others.”

This course will forever change the way you see many stories that are presented to you as a consumer of social media, television, film, text, and other cultural products on a daily basis! From the infamous shower stabbing in Hitchcock’s Psycho to the teacup hypnotism that sends Chris to the sunken place in Get Out, we will look closely at portrayals of violence, shock, resistance and power in horror film and fiction. We will think through the ways that race and gender play central roles in the social production of fear, terror, monstrosity, and the grotesque in popular media.

Texts and films will cover a wide chronological range, from Benito Cereno (1855), to Candyman (1992), to Get Out (2017). The interpretive work we do in class will provide students with a strong foundation in psychoanalytic concepts, cultural theory, literary analysis and film studies and will include the exploration of works by Freud, short fiction by W.E.B. Dubois, Octavia Butler, Herman Melville, among others.

Students will fine-tune their critical capacities, become stronger close readers, improve their argumentation skills, and gain confidence to speak truth to power.

Reading, writing and critical viewership will be central to the course, and short writing assignments with revision components will be integrated into the daily structure of the class. Evaluations will take the form of narrative feedback and serve to develop students as writers and thinkers. The course will culminate in a final project in which students work with an archive of documents of their choosing, performing a reading that integrates the critical skills developed in class. This could focus on a film or other work of fiction, or tackle a less obvious cultural cache, like the world of true crime, a current event, or a social media phenomenon. This work will prepare students to apply the methods of questioning and argumentation to any material they encounter in the humanities and beyond.

Students will emerge as more critical consumers of academic and non-academic media, braced to challenge dominant deployments of racial and gendered representation. Beyond this particular exploration, this course invites critical reading as an ethical disposition whose importance extends beyond the classroom and beyond the academic establishment. Here, reading is meant to indicate more than encountering words on a page; reading will be a practice of critical reflexivity, prompting students to identify, interpret and account for the investments and ideologies they bring to bear on the material we explore in class; the personal will be political.

Prerequisites: This course has no prerequisites; interested students of all backgrounds who are willing to challenge preconceived notions, disagree respectfully, participate with their whole selves and engage attentively are welcome.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEAC0924

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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